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{Book Review} When God is Silent: Let the Bible Teach You to Pray by John Koessler

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

When God is Silent book Koessler
yes, you'll keep a highlighter right with this book

This summer I've been studying prayer, so I've been writing about it, looking at prayers in the Bible, doing word studies and reading books on the subject. I'd say I'm analyzing prayer, but that sounds like I think I'm the pro and just need to give prayer some coaching tips on How To Be A Better Team Player. In reality, I mean nothing of the sort and rather am approaching it as one who's grown a bit discouraged around the edges, but has hope and faith in the sovereignty of God. Maybe I think if I analyze it enough, I'll finally understand it?

This is why I was excited one of my favorite current authors, John Koessler, was releasing a book on prayer. I have read his past books, so I knew I could trust Koessler's approach to the deep, overwhelming, somewhat confusing subject of praying. {In case his name is new to you, Koessler is a contributing editor to Today in the Word, he's also an award-winning author, and retired faculty emeritus of pastoral studies of Moody Bible Institute.}

Book Review: When God is Silent by John Koessler

When God is Silent: Let the Bible Teach You to Pray is a book that takes a thoughtful, biblical, honest look at the topic of prayer. Koessler's approach is pastoral, by which I mean he comes alongside the reader as he applies wisdom, guidance and encouragement to the subject while admitting he himself is still growing in the area. He brings a calming voice to quiet the worries we may bring to this often confusing topic. I loved this book, highlighted many a quote and will definitely read it again. He covers the topic well, with chapters on praying to "get what you want...or not," angry prayers, praying for others and how prayer can feel like an "awkward conversation with God." He uses quotes from other theologians well, and brings in Scripture throughout to back up his points. His hypotheses are grounded in faith, but he also saves room for questions and an acknowledgment that prayer will always hold mystery. Summaries and questions for each chapter are included in the back, and with those, the book could be used well in a group format. The one downside was that you could tell Koessler was speaking from experience in his questions about prayer which kept me wondering what's the story behind that? You find yourself wishing you could have a conversation with him to find out more of his stories.

B Side Becca Rating System:

Rating: 9/10.

Reading Vibe: A calm summer's day listening to water lapping against the dock.

Link to order: When God is Silent: Let the Bible Teach You to Pray

Highlighted pages from When God is Silent by John Koessler
"footage" of my one-dimensional conversation with Koessler

When that idea of a conversation stayed with me, I did the next best thing and reached out to him to ask if he would answer a few questions for us. He was gracious to do so - read on to hear what he said:


{BSide Becca} My favorite question is always why: So, WHY did you write this book on prayer? What is your hope for those who read your book?

{John Koessler} Most of my books grow out of the issues I am wrestling with in my life. Or else they focus on matters that intrigue (or annoy) me. For years I said that I would never write a book about prayer (not that anyone was asking me to do such a thing.) I have always felt like an amateur in this area. But after a while it occurred to me that this was the perspective that was missing. Most of the Christians I know feel uncomfortable about their prayer life. So I tried to write a book for those people. I hope it will help people get a sense of God's welcome and relieve them of the perpetual sense of failure that seems to dog us in this area. When it comes to prayer, I think we are all amateurs.

My interest was piqued by your words before you even start your book! In your dedication you say, "For Jane, who prays better than anyone I know." {Jane being his wife.} But I need to know WHY is Jane the best at prayer?? What is it about Jane's prayers that have encouraged you?

Well, first I think Jane would want me to clarify that I did not necessarily mean that she is the best at prayer in all Christendom. If you asked her about it, she would say that she is not very good at it. But I have always admired the simplicity and persistence of her prayers. She is very regular at it. She has a list that she has been adding to and praying from for many years. Some of the people that Jane remembers in prayer have been on her list for decades. I recall that when I was a pastor there was a tragic death in the congregation of a child who was only seven years old. Years after we were gone from the church, I learned that Jane was still praying for the boy's mother. I have always admired the way Jane prays in hope. But most of all, I love that I always know Jane is praying for me.

You and I do not know each other, so when I first emailed you, I included a paragraph saying who I was, mentioned mutual friends, and my familiarity with other books you have written because I wanted to express I knew who you were, and explain why I felt okay approaching you. In this email, I jumped right into my conversation with a "Hi!"

I feel as though I do this in prayer sometimes too, with my approach sometimes being an introduction and reminder to God of who I am and who He is and why I hope He listens to me, whereas other times I jump right in. Is this okay? In your book, you say, "Although we often talk about "coming" into God's presence, the truth is that we are already there." Would you tell us a little about how you define communion with God and how this communion helps with our awkward approach or discomfort we feel coming before the God of the Universe as our little human selves?

Yes, I think it is okay. In fact, I think it is a pattern one finds in the prayers of the Bible. We remind God of things that He already knows. Those who pray in the Bible appraise God of the situation and remind Him of His promises. When we pray this way, we don't do it for God's benefit. We do it for our own sake. We pray this way for our own comfort. And, sometimes, we pray this way because deep in our hearts we fear that He has forgotten about it. We are just being honest.

As for a definition of communion with God, I think it helps to back to the root idea of the word itself. At the heart of the biblical idea of communion is the notion of shared experience. I think the essence of it is described in 1 John 1:3: "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." Through the gospel we enter into a shared experience of the Father and his son facilitated by the Holy Spirit. Not only is this an experience of God, it is a shared experience. More importantly, it is more than an experience. It is a state of being. It is a fact. Consequently, I do not need to "enter" God's presence or even "invite" His presence. He is always present, and I am always in His presence. Davide speaks eloquently of this in Psalm 139:7-10. However, the truth of the gospel adds a new dimension to the beautiful truth that David describes. This is more than a consequence of divine omnipresence. Christ introduces a new relational dimension. I am in Christ and He is in me. He, in turn, places me in the Father. This is our state of being. We are united to Christ by the Spirit, who enables us to have fellowship with the Father. In turn, all those who are in Christ are also joined to one another. That is communion.

Your chapter on "praying in the words of another" includes a portion on worshipping in church with singing. I have to say, I haven't read a more honest, thoughtful, and freeing approach to music in church. You say in reference to singing songs we may not connect with, "It does not feel like our voice or our heart…You are not performing for God. You do not have to work yourself into an emotional state that matches the music that the worship leader has chosen. If the essence of worship is to offer yourself to God, then the place to begin is to offer your true self. If you are grieving, then offer him your grieving self. If you are angry, then offer him your angry self. If you are worried, then offer him your worried self."

How have you grown in your spiritual walk (not just in relation to music…) to be more fully understanding of who YOU are in relationship to God in order to be more honest with Him? How have you grown to learn that it's not a performance for others and how has that helped you? What part has prayer played in that growth?

Ha Ha. Well, your question is wonderful and makes me sound very deep. The honest answer is that I am not sure I fully understand who I am in relation to God. I mean, I know the basic truth. I am in Christ. I am a child of God. But in many ways, I am as much a mystery to myself as God sometimes is to me. It would be a major project to explain all the reasons why this is. Some of it comes from my own background and a lifetime of self-loathing mixed with self-love, which is a common result of sin. But I have learned the importance of trying to present myself to God as I am. I suppose we can call it honesty, but I am not sure that is entirely accurate. I have realized over the years that many times I not only present a false face to God, I am dishonest with myself. My confidence in prayer is that God can see through all my disguises. He accepts me, not because of the way I present myself to Him but because I am accepted in Christ Jesus. I am His. It is a settled fact. In some ways, the entire project of the Christian life is to work out the reality of that in my experience and bring me to my true identity. As far as the place of prayer is concerned in all this, it is not so much a tool that I use. It is a relational dynamic. I speak to God just as I speak to my wife, children, and friends. I come to them as I am in the moment. Sometimes I may not be my true self or maybe better-not my whole self. The difference is that God sees through to the core.

What was something you learned or now consider differently about prayer while (or after) writing your book?

I said earlier that my writing is often a way of working through my own issues. I have never felt as though I was very good at prayer. I often apologize to God about it. Writing the book made me realize two things. First, I am even worse at it than I imagined. Writing the book did not make me an expert at prayer, but it did make me aware of how much God welcomes me in prayer. Second, I learned that we are all better at prayer than we know. The secret to prayer lies in the one who hears those prayers. It is God who makes prayer effective. I think this is what lies behind the biblical admonitions about faith and its connection to prayer. Faith is not an emotional state that we must work ourselves into in order to be heard (something that I think I believed as a young Christian). Faith has to do with our conviction about God. We know that He hears us whenever we pray. If we know that He hears us, we know He will respond in the most appropriate way to our request.

Bonus: In my writing, I approach topics from the B Side of life, meaning I'm getting older, I've turned the page from raising little kids, moved to a new area, left a job, feeling a little lost and tired at the thought of starting over. Have you experienced this feeling in your life ever? How did you process that feeling? What advice would you give others? On your B Side of life, what has been a surprise or encouragement to you?

Yes. Many times. I think what you describe is a common feature of all change. A new job, a new relationship, a new task, or an unexpected diagnosis all have a way of resetting things for us. But I also think this is something we face as we move through various stages of life. I will turn 70 this year, and it is a blunt reminder to me that I am now in the final stage of my journey on this side of eternity. Frankly, there isn't a day when I don't think about it. Or, I probably should say, there isn't a night that it doesn't cross my mind. I lay down at night, think about death, and realize how much of my energy is devoted to keeping my awareness of its approach at bay.

I retired about four years ago and, like most people who retire, have had to process the way this new stage affected my own sense of myself. I am also working through the difference between what I thought my life would be like and the way it has turned out. To be honest, I don't think I have reached the encouragement side of this work yet. The difficulty of this stage is that although I know there is a future for me, I don't have detailed information about what it will involve for me. So it feels a bit like an approaching wall. It is not a wall, of course. It is a door, and I am assured that what awaits me across its threshold is too wonderful to be put into words.

Ah yes, I think a lot of us feel that way at different times in our life -Thanks, John! I appreciate your time both in answering these questions and in the writing of a book that will be sure to encourage many as they approach the subject of prayer.

-Be sure to order your copy here: When God is Silent: Let the Bible Teach You to Pray by John Koessler


Details, Details:

My past posts on prayer here:

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My Spotify Playlist of worship music that's not the same ol', same ol': Non-Pablum Songs About God

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More on John Koessler:

John Koessler is an award-winning author and retired faculty emeritus of pastoral studies of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He writes monthly columns for Today in the Word and Mature Living Magazine. John is the author of When God is Silent (Lexham), Dangerous Virtues (Moody), Practicing the Present (Moody) and several other books and articles. He serves as a contributing editor for the Moody Bible Institute publication Today in the Word. His podcast, A Stranger in the House of God can be heard on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.


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